University of Rochester: Preparing tomorrow's chemical engineers for the 21st century
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University of Rochester: Preparing tomorrow’s chemical engineers for the 21st century

The chemical engineering field is changing. A report by Deloitte revealed four trends that will impact this field. Two, in particular, stand out: sustainable measures and an ever-growing demand for new technologies.

The University of Rochester’s Department of Chemical Engineering (ChE) knows this well. Established in 1915 as one of the first chemical engineering programmes in the country, the department has cemented its reputation for cutting-edge research. Its focus areas include advanced materials, catalysis and electrocatalysis, batteries, biological and medical systems, computational fluid dynamics, functional interfaces, optical materials, and theory, simulations and artificial intelligence. Spanning technologies, materials and processes, researchers in the department uncover and solve issues in the areas of clean energy, sustainable process engineering, nanotechnology, and human health. 

Little wonder many of its faculty hold affiliations in other departments to foster interdisciplinary research and the sharing of ideas. What’s more, the department has strong ongoing collaborations with the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, the Goergen Institute for Data Science, the Materials Science Programme, and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics.

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Four concentration tracks will be added to the MS in Chemical Engineering programme to promote diverse academic and research experiences. Source: University of Rochester

Yasemin Basdogan, an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, is excited about the four new concentration tracks for the MS in Chemical Engineering. Both MS and PhD students will be able to specialise and get advanced training in these concentrations.

One of the four new tracks them focuses on computational modelling and artificial intelligence (AI).

“This will be a great opportunity for students who want to specialise in modelling and AI. If they decide they want to pursue a PhD programme later, this helps them get ready for their PhD studies and jumpstart their academic journey,” she shares. “On the other hand, if they are interested in modelling or AI-related jobs in industry, this will make sure they are prepared for an extremely competitive job market.”

Basdogan’s research focuses on using data-driven machine learning (ML) models to design new materials — an emerging area in the chemical engineering field. While Dr. Andrew White introduced this approach to mainly focus on bio-related materials, the Assistant Professor is interested in materials related to energy and sustainability. Together, they are building a new research area using AI and ML to design materials in the chemical engineering department.

Likewise, Allison J. Lopatkin, an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, is looking forward to the track emphasising bioengineering and the newly revamped core curriculum. The latter is expressly geared towards preparing students for industry roles requiring biological knowledge — experimental or computational. 

“This will open a huge range of opportunities for students who want to specialise in the bio-side of chemical engineering and ensure they are well-prepared to excel in the job market,” she shares. “I’d also point out that the University of Rochester’s undergraduate students can participate in this programme. Indeed, they can reap these benefits in only five years (one additional year past their four-year degree).”

Lopatkin’s passion for bioengineering is equally seen in her research focus area, which dives into systems and synthetic biology — a sub-discipline within the chemical engineering field and a brand-new addition to the department. In general, systems and synthetic biology seek to describe bacterial systems using the language of chemical engineering principles.

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The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee was initiated to foster an environment in the department that is respectful, encouraging, and open-minded. Source: University of Rochester

The best part? The department sees value in recognising diverse perspectives and is helping to overcome one of the main pillars to tackling greater challenges in chemical engineering: increasing female representation in the engineering field. For Basdogan, it was all about having a role model to inspire her to make a change. 

“This person was Dr. Seda Keskin for me when I decided that I wanted to be powerful and successful like she was,” the Assistant Professor explains. “I hope to be this role model to students moving forward and take an active role in the changing environment. Find a mentor who is willing to support you along the way and try to be involved in a network of female scientists.” 

As a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee, Basdogan is constantly thinking about initiatives to support female students in MS and PhD programmes. Some examples include an annual DEI panel that invites graduates from underrepresented backgrounds to talk to students and share their achievements.

“Seeing a success story always helps them to take the next step,” she recalls. “The two-hour career panel that I moderated created a safe and comfortable environment for students to engage and ask the speakers questions about possible career opportunities.” 

Ready to change the world? Click here to learn more about programmes offered by the Department of Chemical Engineering.

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